In addition to taking the blame for the bullpen phone snafu on Monday night, Tony La Russa yesterday explained the failed hit and run with Albert Pujols at bat and Allen Craig on first. In doing so he confirmed what everyone suspected and what he himself briefly said on Monday: that Pujols has the authority to call a hit and run himself.
Which is certainly not unprecedented. As Tim McCarver noted after it happened, many players have had this ability. He mentioned Cal Ripken. Others have mentioned guys like Tony Gwynn. Some writers say that Kirk Gibson allows several members of the Diamondbacks to do it. It’s not the sort of thing we hear much about but, yes, it’s a thing.
And here’s how La Russa explained it during his presser:
“The other thing that’s so great about it, if you stop and think about it, a great hitter like Albert, there’s situations come up in a game where the hit-and-run in the manager’s opinion is the play, and you really wonder what message you’re sending your great player when you put the hit-and-run on, because you’re kind of saying, ‘We don’t want you to swing the bat.’
“So when a guy like Albert is so receptive to playing the game right, that’s kind of why I’m so aggressive in addressing this. It’s really a humongous break for our club when a great player wants to play the game right. And that’s kind of the point I want to make.”
Here’s my problem with it: why would that ever be a good play with your big bopper at the plate? The hit and run is a one-run strategy. And practically, it’s a much safer play if you have a contact hitter at the plate. Yes, Pujols is something special and doesn’t strike out at the rate your typical power hitter does, but he’s not exactly the guy you just want putting a bat on a ball. You want him waiting for something he can drive. He’s pretty darn good at that, actually.
La Russa admits that it’s bad to send the message to a great hitter that you want to take the bat out of his hands. Yet he says that Pujols wanting to take the bat out of his own hands is “playing the game right.” I can’t help but disagree. It seems like it’s never, ever right to do that to a guy like Pujols. And if it never makes sense to hit and run with Pujols at the plate, you have to question why he has the power to call such a play at all.
On Sunday, it was reported that second baseman Neil Walker and the Mets were discussing a potential three-year contract extension worth “north of $40 million.” Those discussions took a turn for the worse. The Mets feel extension talks are “probably dead,” according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.
Walker underwent a lumbar microdisectomy in September, ending his 2016 season during which he hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 home runs and 55 RBI over 458 plate appearances.
The Mets may not necessarily need to keep Walker around as it has some potential options up the middle waiting in the minor leagues. Though Amed Rosario is expected to stick at shortstop, Gavin Cecchini — the club’s No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — could shift over to second base.
The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.
It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:
On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:
“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.